Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Due to various class trips, sicknesses, and lethargy, some of my classes have been small this week. One class of eighth-graders had only three students. This is a class that is unmotivated at their best, and knowing that they were the only three stuck in class wasn’t exactly firing them up. Grasping at straws, I sat down with them at two tables and we wrote circulating stories. We each started with one piece of paper and wrote the first sentence before passing them on. Quick and simple. And I let them go ten minutes early.

We ended up with four stories of varying quality and interest. They voted the following one as the best. The stars are where the writer changed (all grammar and spelling are original):

Noémi and Pusi’re love each other. They went to the cinema. * After the cinema they went to a park and * sat on a bench next to the Tisza river. The night was very dark, and * boring, because they * didn’t find us. * It was very hot, so they decided to go swimming in the Tisza, * but Pusi don’t want take down his clothes. * And when Pusi saw Noémi, Pusi is, * and then they went swimming. But the water was very cold. When they stopped swimming, their clothes were gone! * And Pusi said: I want to go home. * But Noémi don’t want so. * So they walked to a pub. * And they drink alkohol. After they’re go to the hotel. * And, * they went into a room. * And Pusi said Noémi - I haven’t got any many [money].

And, thankgod, that’s when it ended.

Just a side note - Noémi was one of the students missing from the class. The 8th-grade class. And I believe Pusi is her 20-some year-old boyfriend. I love Hungary.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Great England Experiment (Take Two)

My History: one previous trip to London for two days, two years ago. It was interesting, but too short and too expensive for us to see and do much.

The General Plan, this time around: an 8-day field trip to England with 38 Kassai students (5th through 8th grades), the four other English teachers, myself, one guide (Anna), and two bus drivers. And one really big bus.

The Details:
Day 1 - leave Szolnok at 3 am. Drive all day. Sleep in Belgium in a cheap hotel.
Day 2 - cross the Channel (by Chunnel). Arrive in London. Walk around the city, go up the London Eye, and visit the British Museum. Meet out host families.
Day 3 - excursions to Shakespeareville, aka Stratford-upon-Avon, and Warwick Castle.
Day 4 - excursions to Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Hampton Court.
Day 5 - visit London Tower, Westminster Abbey, and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.
Day 6 - bid farewell to host families. Visit Leeds Castle and Canterbury before hopping on the ferry to France. Sleeping in another cheap hotel.
Day 7 - Disneyland Europe, all day. In the evening, back on the bus. And driving all night.
Day 8 - another day of driving. Arrived back to Szolnok about 3:30.

Things I Learned:
- that Kati, my awesomely fierce contact teacher, is still awesomely fierce at 3am. And during the whole vacation.
- that 38 kids, 5 adults, 1 guide, and 2 bus drivers actually can pile off the bus, use a crowded bathroom, goof around, buy snacks, take photos, and be back on the road in the allotted 20 minutes.
- that despite being surrounded by one of the world’s richest histories, in a country filled with castles and museums and gardens, kids will inevitably head straight for the Labyrinth, the Ghost Tower, or the mummy exhibit.
- that I’ve become used to being in Hungary. So much so that I try to speak Hungarian to shopkeepers and people on the street, and that I imagine I hear people speaking it all around me in London. I wonder if the same thing will happen in America, and if so, for how long?
- that the word “hypermarket” isn’t some sort of weird Hunglish - it’s British. It’s a real word, who knew?
- that if you take loud, obnoxious students out of the classroom, away from their friends and partners-in-crime, they’re just kids. Cute, funny, insecure, normal teenage kids.

The Family Stay:
In theory, this sounded like the coolest part of the trip: in groups of two, three, or four, the students spend nights living with English families. They eat breakfast and dinner together, and the families give them a packed lunch for the day. Having only our family stays in Romania to compare, I expected the best.
In reality, this might have been the worst part for many of the kids. The 2 Edits and I lucked out and stayed with a wonderful woman named Sandra who stuffed us full of food, gave us two plush rooms to stay in, and sent us off every day with lunch bags bigger than my head. Unfortunately, no one else’s experience was similar. There were problems with all aspects of the stay: the rooms were small or unclean; the food was terrible or scant; they didn’t get a lunch bag; they didn’t get anything to drink; they didn’t understand each other; the families were unfriendly. There were also problems getting between the bus and the houses, because after the first day the students were expected to walk alone to and from our drop-off point to their families’ houses. Yikes - some of them are in 5th grade! If I had a child that old, I wouldn’t let them walk a mile though London traffic alone.
Long story short, the family stays were less than perfect. I hope the kids got something out of them.

The Hungarian and the English:
Overall, I think I spoke and heard more Hungarian than English the whole week. I’m not sure how much English any of the kids actually spoke outside their families, although it was gratifying to hear a few of them mumbling English phrases to themselves to practice, or having stilted conversations with each other.
Some of the students decided to spend the week teaching me Hungarian. Walking around castle after castle, we played endless rounds of “Tree?” “Fa.” “Yes. Bird?” “Madár.” “Good. Castle?” “Kastély.” “Good. Um... grass?” “Fü.” “Yes! Oh, you is very clever. Camera?” “Um... fény-something-gép?” And then giggling. They also tried to explain some grammar, but that stopped when they got to '-ban, -ben' and the concept of vowel harmony.

The Conclusion:
As I was talking to Jeremy yesterday afternoon, he asked me, “So, was it worth it?” For a second, I didn’t know what he meant, because I had completely forgotten about all the griping I did about the expensive. So, yeah, I guess it was worth it.
Money aside: I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I hope I can.
I’ve got a couple more stories, which I’ll post if I have time. I’ll be kinda busy, you know, between the Oxford party tonight, the Beer Festival this weekend, and my next vacation starting next Wednesday. Oh, I love my life right now.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Field Trip!

I know I griped a couple of entries ago about how terribly expensive London is... specifically, how my school semi-conned me into being a fee-paying chaperone on their trip to London. So I won’t bitch anymore about the money, other than to say after paying the 40,000ft down-payment, the 47,000ft remaining fee, plus 2000ft for insurance, plus 100 pounds, plus 25 euro... I am now broke. And ready to go to London.

We leave tomorrow. At 3 in the morning, actually, so I plan on scraping together my remaining change and going out tonight. There’s no point of trying for 8 hours of sleep anyway, so why bother.

I’ll be back next weekend, hopefully with stories. I mean, good ones.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Life in the Real World

My sweet alma mater, Beloit College, was both very small (my graduating class: 296 people) and very insular. Against the ongoing animosity between Beloit-the-College and Beloit-the-City, we developed the “Beloit Bubble.” The Bubble kept us together, kept us safe, kept us isolated.

Then there was graduation. I’m sure you can see the metaphor coming: the Bubble burst.

I don’t know how other people feel about their graduations, but I feel like at Beloit, it was made out to be this big scary thing. We had spent the last four years preparing, in theory, to leave and face the Real World, but everyone seemed to have doubts about our ability to do so. Even the speakers at graduation played this up: our student president gave a speech about our “characteristically uncharacteristic” students, focusing on how Beloit was the only thing in the world tying us together. The commencement was given by Alain Destexhe, former Secretary General of Doctors Without Borders, who delivered a terrifying speech on the topic of genocide. I’m not kidding. It was half an hour of what an awful, frightening place the world is... and how we were about to enter it.

My point: one year ago today I graduated. I entered the Real World. And despite Beloit’s best efforts to alarm me, it turned out that the Real World isn’t so bad a place. It’s doable. It’s livable. I like it.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

It's Over, All Over

... basketball, that is. More precisely, Szolnoki Olaj basketball.

Both of my regular readers know that since my first game, I’ve developed a small obsession with Szolnok’s basketball team, to the point where I ended up hanging around in Szolnok on my precious weekends, just to go to the games. But what can I do, the games are spectacular. And if regular games are like this, I assumed the play-off games would be even better. They didn’t let me down.

But first, a recap of the situation, for those of you as unenlightened about Hungarian basketball as I was two months ago. The Szolnoki Olaj are one of 14 teams. Having managed to win an entire 50% of their games played in the regular season, Olaj was granted one of 8 spots in the championship. Namely, the 8th place. And only barely. But never mind, they got in.

In the first round of the championship, the quarterfinals, the 8 teams are paired up and play for the best of 5 games, so until one team wins 3 games. The Olaj, being in last place, were matched against Paks, in first place. The first game was in Paks; we lost by 6 points. The second game was in Szolnok and we won by 2 points. The third game was in Paks, and we lost by 20 points. The fourth game was in Szolnok and we won by 5 points. Maybe you see a pattern here? Which brings me to the sad conclusion of tonight: we played in Paks. We lost. By 36 points. That’s just painful.

So it’s over. No more basketball. But I hate to finish on a sad note, so here’s something I’ve been meaning to post for a while: some of the chants that are routinely screamed at the games. Plus translation. All courtesy of one of my also-basketball-obsessed private students, thank you:

The cheers:
Hajrá Olaj! Olajbányász! {go, Olaj!}
Gyerünk, gyerünk, Olajka! {let’s go, Olaj!}
Mindent bele! {also like go, Olaj!}
Mindenki, szolnoki! {everyone szolnoki}
Álljatok fel! {stand up!}

The insults:
Cigányok, cigányok! {“gypsy” isn’t a good insult in my book}
Fasszopó, fasszopó! {but “cocksucker” is}

The taunts:
to the refs: Mennyibe kerül? Mennyibe kerül? {what did it cost? (the bribe)}
to the losing opposing fans: Indul a busz! Indul a busz! {your bus is leaving}
to Paks in particular: Paksi Atom, szopd ki a faszom! {Paks Atom (the team name), blow me!}

And the songs:
Favilla, fakanál, fatányér, {wooden fork, wooden spoon, wooden plate}
Meghalok a, meghalok az Olajért! {I will die for the Olaj}
Ha meghalok majd eltemetnek, {if I die, to the funeral}
Oda is csak Olaj-szurkolók jöhetnek. {only Olaj fans are invited}

Ha meghalok, a mennybe jutok, {if I die, I’ll go to Heaven}
Nevetnek rám az angyalok, {the angels will smile on me}
Szent Péter mondja: “Hajrá Olaj!” {St Peter will say “Go, Olaj!”}
És mi vígan szopatunk! {and we’ll happily get sucked off}
(clap x3) Szopatunk! (clap x3) {yes, sucked off}
Mi leszünk a bajnokok! {we will be the champions}
(and start again from Szent Peter)

...because nothing goes together like basketball, death, and oral sex. I’m gonna miss it.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Three Yellow Flowers

As I was walking back from school this morning, still a bit dazed after the first round of teaching without coffee, I walked past the back of apartment building, where my windows face, and I noticed something funny. On the windowsill outside my bedroom window, someone had left three yellow flowers.

On Mondays, I walk back and forth to and from my school 6 times. The flowers didn’t move. They were still there when I made my last trip home this afternoon, so I brought them inside and put them in water. They’re small, yellow, like a tulip but more wild looking. They were cut, not plucked. They looked like they had been arranged on the windowsill.

So, I see three possibilities:
- it’s something really sweet, like a secret admirer
- it’s something really creepy, like a stalker
- it’s something absolutely coincidental and I’m a drama queen.

Anyone want to offer any other theories?

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Yet another weekend spent in Szolnok, but that’s hardly worth mentioning anymore, it’s become typical. What was atypical about this weekend was the barbecue-cum-graduation party on Friday. That afternoon, Chad and Mike bought a grill at Cora. They parked it out in the Varga courtyard and invited everyone we knew, which boiled down to Juli, Tamás (Oxford teacher), Dóri (his wife), Tami (their adorable son), Zoli and Kati briefly, and a large bunch of Varga students. Many of whom were graduating the following day, early-ish. I had intentions of getting up and going to watch the ceremony, but I slept too late.

Great food, great company. Good booze, too. I of course had been keeping my Friday afternoon ritual of sitting at home with my bottle of wine since about 3. Then there was beer at the barbecue. Then there was champagne, because we were celebrating. A surprising number of Vargans did the prudent thing and stayed soberish, but there were enough who weren’t worrying about a hungover graduation to make for a good time.

The whole evening had a bit of a poignant tinge to it though. Chad’s 12C class showed up and sang to him, as departing classes do for teachers here. It was sad. They sang some Hungarian tunes; I was waiting for “Graduation (Friends Forever),” or something similar, but their English selection was “Come As You Are.”

But all-in-all, a fun night. Although I’ll only be here a few more weeks, I’m anticipating more barbecues as weather permits. Not to mention, I suspect at the end of the week, when Varga and other gymnasium students finish their finals week, the city will explode in a riot of parties. I have absolutely no evidence to support this suspicion.... I’m just really optimistic.

Friday, May 05, 2006

More Eger Pictures

The following pictures are brought to you by:
-Mike, by whom and on whose camera they were taken
-myself, who had the infinite patience to upload them to blogger.

I think this picture is funny because of where Chad and Juli are looking at me. Actually, we were discussing the color of my shirt.

Us in the castle of Eger. All three of us look so uncomfortable and akwardly posed.

Juli at the minaret. I think her expression says "Let's just get the hell away from this evil place."

Us on the balcony of the Lyceum. The black spot is not a cloud of doom following us around Eger. Actually, it's the Spot of Doom that's been following Mike since he dropped his camera.

Although this is a un-posed shot, it could be a perfect situation photo: The Waiting Room.

After seeing the camera obscura and the miracle combination of art and science, I think Mike and Chad decided to take some glamour shots on the stairs. That explains the shot of Chad; the ones of Juli and I are candid. Together, they make the following sequence which I'm calling "Lyceum Staircase Triptych:"

Monday, May 01, 2006

Eger az amikkal (Eger with the Americans)

Actually, there were three Americans (myself, Chad and Mike) and one Hungarian (that would be Juli). But people were easily confused by such a multi-national group of young people, because 1) everyone thought Juli was American; 2) our landlady Zsuzsa (pictured below) thought I was Hungarian; 3) a ticket-taker thought Mike was Hungarian because he has a perfect “igen.”

So the original plan was to leave Saturday, early afternoon. Due to some serious hangovers from the night before (not me this time), we didn’t leave until quarter after 5. We made it to Eger in good time and headed to Egerszalok, to the Kohári Pincészet where the Americans stayed last February. Unfortunately, they and everywhere else in Egerszalok were full, so we headed back down the road to Demjén. We ended up at the Pap Vendégház, which was 10 times better than Kohári. For 7000 Ft each, we stayed in our own house for two nights. Two bedrooms, a bathroom and a second toilet, a small but full kitchen, big dining room, two porches (indoor and outdoor), amazing breakfast both days, wine and snacks both evenings, and wine and food for the road. I highly recommend it.

Sunday morning, we headed to Eger. After looking around the Cathedral (above), we walked up to the Castle. Our 1000 Ft all-entrance tickets turned out to not include entrance to some of the best places, like the archery or the wax museum. So we contented ourselves with walking the walls, taking lots of photos, eating gyros, visiting some of the smaller exhibitions (including the Torture Museum, gruesome) and sitting in the sun (below).

Our third and final stop in Eger was the Minaret. I like this picture (below) because Mike looks like he’s having fun and I look terrified. Hm, tastes like irony. Chad took the photo, and Juli had already abandoned us and gone back down.

After the Minaret, we were all ready to sit down and relax somewhere. What better place than Szépasszonyvölgy, the Valley of the Beautiful Women. At the beginning of the night (still afternoon), I got out my green notebook and decided that I was going to keep a list of things to blog about. Well, you can imagine how that went: as the night went on, I got drunker, the list got less understandable, the handwriting got less readable. I may have drunk-dialed or drunk-sms-ed people... sorry. Anyway, the list ended up with 14 entries, which are in italic in the paragraph after the picture.

Confronted with dozens of wine cellars, each with a number, we asked each other if we had any lucky numbers: 22, 8, 7, and 5. No dice - we were already past the single digits, and 22 was closed, sad. We settled at #20, Marci Pincéje, where we sampled some wine while being entertained by loud Brits taking photos, and a parade made up of two drunken men who hired the house band to walk behind them and play music. After following the parade a bit, we tried #14, the Kiss cellar, but it was smelly, so we left. At #31, Sándor Pincéje, we had a private performance by the house band there. After they played Jacques Offenbach’s Galop Infernal (Can-Can), Mike and I had a long discussion about Moulin Rouge; to downplay his knowledge of it, he proclaimed, “I drank myself gay.” At dinner, Juli spent a good time on the phone with her brother Csaba, during which time Chad cut up her food for her, and stole the phone to tell Csaba how we’d “had some wine, eating some food, feeding some cats...” The final entry on the list, nearly illegible, is “That guy’s due for an eclision.” I don’t really remember what this means. Maybe we almost hit a pedestrian?

I do remember the drive back to Demjén, and how we subsequently sat around our rooms watching MTV and trying to make a dent in the jug of wine we bought. Not successfully.

This morning, Monday, we all slept late and took a long time getting ready. Zsuzsa, our hostess/landlady, stopped by hourly to see if we had left yet. Shortly before noon, we made it back to Eger and visited the Lyceum, where we saw the Specula Observatory and it’s camera obscura, which is basically a series of mirrors which project a live image of Eger onto a white table in a darkened room. Trust me, it’s amazing. We also visited the Lyceum’s Library, which was equally impressive.

And that’s about it. After a brief McDonalds stop (disgusting waste of money), we were on the road home. We made it back to Szolnok in the rain about 4. And here I am. Home sweet home. Next entry: the House Wars.

ps- thanks to Mike for being our photographer this weekend. Nice job.